A comment I’ve heard a few of you make recently is, “I’m waiting on my first customer,” or “I’m nervous about my first consultation,” or “I’m all ready to go but I haven’t got any orders.” When you are working from home, just starting out, it can be very frustrating to have hung out your shingle and then watch as the tumble weeds float past your open door. You’re excited, you’re nervous, you’ve got a box of 500 business cards at the ready and yet nobody is coming to order from you.
Worse than this is when you’ve been in business a while, your shingle has some dust on it, you’ve used half the box of business cards…and yet it still feels like a struggle to get people ordering from you.
Where are all these customers hiding out, exactly?
Here are 3 steps to finding your first – or getting more – customers (also known as, “A crash course in Marketing.”)
STEP ONE: Figure out who your ideal client is.
Before we can work out WHERE these customers are, we need to work out WHO they are. Your ‘target market’ are the people who are most likely to be your customers, based on what you are offering. Figuring out who your target market is is a vital step in working out how to find them – and while it’s by no means a new idea in business, it IS something which can be a challenge for cake makers to do. Theoretically every single person you meet could be in your target market – who doesn’t like cake, everyone celebrates birthdays, etc. In reality, sure, everyone likes cake and everyone has birthdays but not everyone is willing to or can afford to buy a custom cake. Some people who love cake and have birthdays might live rurally and so can’t access cake companies. Some think a cheap supermarket cake is just fine. Some will be able to afford it but prefer to do it themselves.. you get the idea.
The key to working out who your customers are lies in working out not only what you sell, but what the limitations of those sales are. So, for example – if you sell very expensive cake but you have no means to deliver it – your target market will be all the people with a high disposable income who either local to your area or are willing to travel for it. Or, if you sell make-your-own cake kits which you can ship all over the country – your target market is going to be time-poor parents who can’t (or won’t) get a custom cake but who are happy to pay more than just a box mix will cost them. They probably also shop online.
This is where your homework comes in – sit down and outline exactly what your product is. Then work out who is most likely to buy it. How old are they? Are they male? Female? Stay at home parents or working parents? Are they cake makers? (That’s entirely possible – especially if you teach cake decorating or sell figurines.) Where do they live? Do they have children?
It’s entirely possible that your target market fits into more than one category – you might be targeting brides (who don’t have children) but also mothers (who do) – but the important thing is to start to build a picture or two of who will buy what you are selling. Get as detailed as you possibly can about what these people are like. A good way to get the ball rolling on this is to look at your existing client base and see if you can pick out common traits they have. If you don’t have any clients, think about the kind of person you think is most likely to buy your product.
Get very real about this. I can’t stress enough how knowing every detail about your target clients will shape a whole lot of business decisions.
STEP TWO: Figure out where these people are hanging out.
So now you know the kind of person your business needs to have walking in the door. Now you need to work out how they spend their money, where they spend it, and mostly importantly WHERE THEY GO to decide how to spend it.
Hint: They are not all on facebook.
Let me tell you about my own business and how I learned the “they are not all on facebook,” lesson. It’s my policy that every single person who comes through my business gets asked, “How did you hear about us?” I ask *everyone*, even if they are buying something worth five bucks. Why? Two reasons: because I want to get more detail about how my customers spend their “spending” time, and it’s also a great way of knowing if the advertising I pay for is working for me. I also write down their answers so I can get some cold, hard statistics to look at. In preparation for this post, I went and looked at how many answered the, “How did you hear about us?” question with “Facebook,” and the answer was: 3. THREE. (Our of several hundred.) Many of our customers are currently our fans on facebook but generally only because they found us somewhere else first. So for me, the stats are clear that while facebook is a great way to stay connected with our clients, it’s not a great place to generate actual sales for me.
Now – facebook might work really well for you if you are, for example, a cake decorating supply shop who relies on cake makers. For me as a custom cake business, it doesn’t get me much in the way of sales. I worked out who my target market was and then I worked out where they hang out and guess what? Most of them are too busy for social media. A lot of my target market are people with kids and so this directly affects where they hang out. Local schools, local sporting clubs, local dance classes,online parenting forums, online directories for kids’ events, local radio shows, they hang out in cafes and they read parenting magazines – my target market hangs out in and does purchasing research in a whole bunch of places which are not always the obvious ones.
If *you* or your friends fall into your own target market (and you might), where do you go when you want to purchase something? The local mall? Do you research it online first? If so, where? Do you ask your friends for referrals, and if you do, where do they get their info from? Ask your customers! Ask ANYONE who falls into this category.
Find out where your ideal clients are – and be prepared to be surprised at what you hear.
STEP THREE: Go to where they hang out, spend some time there, and don’t leave too soon.
Once you’ve worked out what your product is and you work out where your ideal customers spend their time – GO THERE. By whatever means are appropriate for that place. Go there, spend more than five minutes there, and for heaven’s sake don’t leave too soon.
Let me explain. Suppose you work out that your target market is local parents with school-aged kids. You decide to take out an ad in the local school newsletter. You do it for a month and only get two enquiries. You’re disappointed so you decide never to run that ad again, it didn’t work, right? WRONG. These are busy parents – they probably don’t read every single newsletter which comes out. Good marketing and advertising needs these things: consistency, clarity, and certainty. You’ve got to be running that ad, with a clear message or offer in it, for longer than just one edition – and then you’ve got to deliver on whatever it is you said you would. I’d probably recommend (depending on how often the newsletter comes out), giving it a good run of time before deciding it is or is not working for you – say 3 months for a monthly publication, 6-8 weeks for a weekly one. Then, when people walk in the door – deliver on what your ad said it would deliver and make a point of acknowledging that you are happy to support the local school.
Guess what happens then? Those parents have a great experience with you, and tell other parents about it, and then it snowballs because your advertising starts to generate word of mouth AMONG YOUR IDEAL CLIENTS (and it’s backed up by the newsletter ad appearing again next week!). Word of mouth is the best sort of advertising because it’s entirely free, but it definitely costs you something if the word is getting around to the wrong people.
Suppose your ideal clients hang out online somewhere – bridal websites, for example. Advertise there and follow the same basic rules of being consistent, clear, and certain. Maybe your clients hang out at bridal fairs. Maybe they are on facebook. It doesn’t matter – what matters is that as long as your marketing and advertising is going to exactly the RIGHT people in the RIGHT place, over a reasonable period of time – it’s not a waste of time or money, it’s an investment in a longer term plan.
This post is not about if you should pay for advertising or not or how long you should do it for, it’s not about magazines versus online, it’s not even about if you should bother to advertise at all. It’s basically about working out how to shape your business and find some customers to build that business. It’s entirely possible that you can find customers and not need to spend a cent on advertising – but if you don’t know WHO they are and WHERE they are, you’ll find yourself staring at an empty doorway regardless.
If you forget everything about this post, I want you to just remember this: